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The Anglican Church of Canada and homosexuality

From 2007-APR to OCT: Ottawa & Montreal
dioceses approve same-sex blessing rituals.
House of Bishops meet.

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Sponsored link.
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Earlier activities at the 2007 General Synod were described in a prior essay

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Background:

The 2007 General Synod asked  the Anglican Church of Canada's Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee to "... engage the church in conversation on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition and science." [Emphasis ours]

These are the four traditional criteria that the Anglican Communion has used in the past when faced with conflict over policy. However, it is a recipe for difficulty, if not disaster, because there is often disagreement over:

  • Whether a specific passage in scripture was only valid for a particular era, like the first century CE, or whether it is still equally valid today.

  • How to handle a situation where reason and personal experience leads in a different direction from that of scripture and tradition. Which takes precidence?

  • Whether church tradition is a useful criteria to consider in a time of great cultural change; for example at the time that human slavery was abolished, when women were allowed to be ordained, or when loving, committed same-gender couples were considered eligible to marry.

  • How to handle a situation where science points in a very different direction from church tradition and a literal interpretation of certain biblical passages; who wins out?

  • How does one weigh scriptural demands for love, caring, and justice with passages that exclude, demean and even call for execution of women and sexual minorities.

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2007-OCT-12/13: Diocese of Ottawa backs blessings of same-sex relationships:

The theme of the 2007 Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa was "Behold, I Make All Things New Embracing the Future," from Revelation 21:5. They met in Cornwall, ON and debated the diocese's policy towards same-sex relationships. 1 Some delegates:

"... brought up the fact that the Church welcomes gay people individually, gives communion, baptizes their babies, and even offers a pension fund that recognizes same sex couples. Yet it can't 'bless' them even though it blesses boats, houses, even pets and other animals. 2

By a wide margin (177 to 97) the delegates passed a motion that would allow a priest, with the prior approval of his parish, to approach the bishop for permission to perform a blessing of a previously solemnized same-sex civil marriage where at least one spouse is baptized. This would give the married couple's parish, their priest, and their bishop separate veto power over the blessing, so that all three would have to be in agreement. However, the actual performance of same-sex marriages would still be banned. Only a blessing would be allowed.

Ottawa is the first synod in Canada to take this action since the denomination decided in the summer of 2007 against giving a local option for such blessings.

Bishop John Chapman has veto power over the synod and has not yet announced his decision. He will talk to other bishops in Canada and abroad before deciding. He said: "It's not helpful to walk alone. We're not afraid to walk alone, but we don't want to walk alone."

BBC News commented:

"The vote, by a wide majority, sets back efforts to stem the disintegration of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Even before the American Anglican church controversially ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003, a Canadian diocese, Vancouver, had sparked a crisis in the Communion by allowing church blessings for homosexual couples. Since then the Communion has begun painfully to split apart, as traditionalists, who believe active homosexuality to be sinful, have tried to expel liberal churches. ... The decision is not binding, but it is further evidence that the liberal North American churches will not fundamentally change their approach to homosexuality, even if that were necessary to keep the Communion intact." 3

The Anglican Network in Canada, a group of conservative Anglicans, said they were deeply saddened by the vote of the Ottawa synod. They issued a statement:

"Unfortunately, the synod has chosen to reject the pleas of the global Anglican Communion and 'walk apart' from the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide." 4

Religions often have great difficulty handling change. As social and cultural traditions change, and as science advances, more liberal factions within denominations push for changes. But since religions also place much importance on scripture and church history, the more conservative factions tend to resist change.

The worldwide Anglican Communion is in a state of crisis over sexual orientation. There is a great pressure for all of the Communion's provinces to behave uniformly. It is only with great difficulty that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church, USA can progress and leave the rest of the Communion behind without generating a schism. Still, it is impossible for the entire Anglican Communition to progress together on this matter. Some dioceses and provinces have to take the first steps.

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2007-OCT-18: Primate says due process was followed:

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, commented on the resolution passed by the Ottawa synod that would allow priests to bless existing civil marriages between same-sex couples if prior approval by the bishop is obtained. He said:

"I believe due process was followed with respect to the handling of this resolution. The outcome of the resolution is a reflection of the mind of the church local in this matter."

However, Bishop Chapman said that despite a "strong majority" and "a clear directive," the approved motion was but "a recommendation and is not binding on the diocese or the bishop."

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2007-OCT-19: Montréal diocese backs same-sex blessings:

The synod of the diocese of Montréal voted in favor of a motion to bless existing same-sex marriages. It was worded very similarly to the Ottawa resolution. The clergy delegates to the synod voted 44 to 25 in favor; lay delegates voted 59 to 32. Some of the delegates who opposed the resolution required the synod to make separate tallies for clergy and laity. This forced Bishop Clarke to indicate where he stood. He voted in favor of the motion. Clarke praised what he called a "wonderful, intelligent debate" on both sides of the debate. Canon Paul Jennings, director of pastoral studies at the Diocesan Theological College in Montreal sponsored the resolution. The Anglican Journal reported that Canon Jennings:

"... asked delegates to ask themselves what they would want for their children if they were homosexual, and 'what do we believe in all honesty that God wants for them?' He said the church's attitude could make a difference for gays and lesbians between loneliness, denial, perhaps bad marriage or promiscuity and alienation from the church, on the one hand, and faith, holiness and strong partnerships on the other. However, he said the resolution is only a request to the bishop and does not cover [solemnizing] same-sex marriages ­ a subject outside the power of a single diocese under church law."

"Canon Jennings said he and the other sponsor of the resolution, Dr. Douglass Dalton, a medical doctor who worships at St. John the Evangelist Church in Montréal, urged delegates to vote in accordance with their own consciences rather than being preoccupied with the possible political consequences of the vote at various levels of the Anglican Church."

Rev. Gregory McVeigh of St. Stephen’s Church in Westmount opposed the motion. He said that one biblical theme that starts in Genesis and continues throughout most of the Bible is that a couple consists of male and female. He said: "However you interpret this scripture, you have to take it seriously." He considers the six or so texts often cited as anti-gay as being of less importance.

Rev. McVeigh appears to be overlooking seven of the eight marriage types described in the Bible, including nuclear families, levirate marriage, polygynous marriage (considting of one man and multiple women), and others. More details.

Rev. Dean Brady, a doctoral student at McGill University in Montréal said that to support same-sex couples would be to reject the "lens" of scripture as a way of interpreting the world in favor of a "lens" of modern social science.

Rev. Anthony Harvey of St. Michael and All Angels Church in the Montréal suburb of Pierrefonds asked whether the resolution "... is really God¹s will or is it bringing God down to our level of understanding and acceptance?" 5

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2007-OCT-25/30: House of Bishops to meet:

The House of Bishops will discuss the implications of the Montreal and Ottawa synod votes. They will also discuss an ambiguity left by the General Synod. The latter had determined that same-sex blessings are "not in conflict" with core church doctrine. But the bishops vetoed by a slim margin a decision by the priests and laity to allow individual dioceses to bless same-sex relationships if they wish.

Robin MacKay, chancellor (legal advisor) of the diocese of Ottawa, said that the latter resolution neither affirmed or denied the local jurisdiction on the matter. He said that the motion, "doesn’t deny the jurisdiction of bishops to (allow) same-sex blessings; it’s just that General Synod failed to act in that area." Some canon law experts have expressed the opinion that there is nothing on the canons or constitution of the Anglican Church of Canada that would prevent a diocese from acting on its own. 7

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Synod 2007," Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, at: http://ottawa.anglican.ca/
  2. Jennifer Green, "Same-sex unions get blessing from Ottawa diocese. Weekend Vote; Final decision on issue still rests with bishop," CanWest News Service, 2007-OCT-15, at: http://www.canada.com/
  3. Robert Pigott, "Canada diocese backs gay blessing," BBC News, 2007-OCT=15, at: http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/
  4. Randall Palmer, "New Anglican row emerges with gay blessing request," Reuters, 2007-OCT-15, at: http://africa.reuters.com/
  5. Harvey Shepherd, "Montreal diocese becomes second to urge same-sex blessings," Anglican Journal, 2007-OCT-20, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/
  6. Marites Sison, "Ottawa synod followed process, says primate," Anglican Journal, 2007-OCT-18, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/

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Home>Conflict>Homosexuality>Faith groups>Denominations>Anglican Church of Canada>here

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Copyright © 2007 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2007-OCT
Latest update: 2012-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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